Written by Angelo Parra, with conception and direction by Joe Brancato, the staging stars Miche Braden as Bessie Smith, whose career was cut short by a car crash in 1937. The production is spiced with period songs including "St. Louis Blues," "Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl" and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."
Braden (whose first name is pronounced "Mickey") is acclaimed for musical and dramatic roles in her hometown of Detroit and elsewhere.
Penguin Rep Theatre and Edmund Gaynes, in association with Don & Lizanne Mitchell, present the Off-Broadway engagement. The cast also includes Aaron Graves, Jim Hankins, Keith Loftis and Anthony E. Nelson, Jr.
Here's how producers describe the experience: "Sexy and racy, blues singer Bessie Smith was the definition of a Red Hot Mamma and the most successful entertainer of her time. On the eve of her tragic death in 1937, Bessie takes center stage in The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith and tells the story of her amazing life and career, her loves and losses. Put your troubles aside and soak up the blues as Bessie Smith comes to life and sings the songs that made her so unforgettable…"
For the record, the title's first New York City life was in a six-week Off-Broadway run in early 2001, produced by The Melting Pot Theatre at Theatre 3. It was directed by Brancato and starred Braden. The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith features set design by Michael Schweikardt, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, costume design by Patricia E. Doherty and sound design by Jack Kennedy. Musical direction and arrangements are by Miche Braden.
Productions of the show have played New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Detroiter Braden is a singer, actor, musician, songwriter, arranger and musical director. In Detroit she was an artist in residence with the Detroit Council of the Arts, the founder and former lead singer of Straight Ahead (a women's jazz band) and was a protégé of Motown musicians Thomas "Beans" Bowles, Earl Van Dyke (leader of The Funk Brothers) and jazz master composer Harold McKinney. As an actor, she has appeared in and served as musical director-arranger in The People's Temple, Gee's Bend, The Bluest Eye, Mahalia: A Gospel Musical, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill, Hot Snow: The Story of Valaida Snow and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. She has been nominated for the Carbonell Award in Florida and the Connecticut Critics Award. She originated the character of Duchess DeLovely in the original cast of Hats: The Red Hat Society Musical. She performed "New York State of Mind" in Movin' Out on Broadway.
Parra is an award-winning playwright whose work includes Journey of the Heart and Song of the Coquí. In 2000, he was named a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the prestigious Sewanee Writers Conference. He is founder and director of the Hudson Valley Professional Playwrights Lab, teaches playwriting and performing arts at SUNY Rockland Community College and is president of the Board of Trustees of Penguin Rep Theatre.
Brancato's directing credits include Off-Broadway's Freed at 59E59 Theaters, Tryst (Outer Critics nomination for Best Play) starring Maxwell Caulfield, Cobb (Drama Desk winner) produced by Kevin Spacey in New York and Los Angeles, From Door To Door at the Westside Theatre, One Shot, One Kill at Primary Stages, Two and a Half Jews and more. He is founding artistic director of Penguin Rep in Rockland County, NY.
St. Luke's Theater is at 308 W. 46th Street. The playing schedule for The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith is Monday and Tuesday evenings at 7 PM, Wednesday evenings at 8 PM. Tickets from $36.50 are available at Telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200. For more information visit www.devilsmusic.biz.